Four films I’ve seen for the first time and two I revisited, from one of Pixar’s best to one of John Ford’s worst.
A Soul (2020)
My children are all grown, and I don’t have to go to every Pixar movie anymore, but I’m glad I saw this one. Soul is one of Pixar’s best, and in many ways one of its most adult. It’s about Jazz, New York, dreams, desires, teaching, the afterlife, why different babies have different personalities, and getting your soul into your body. Jamie Foxx voices the main character, a jazz pianist possibly on the brink of fame. But most important of all, it’s about enjoying life and caring for others. Technically and artistically, it’s damn near perfect. Tina Fey voices a soul without a body.
B+ Return of the Secaucus 7 (1979)
John Sayles’ warm and funny directorial debut captures the baby boomers as they confront adulthood. A group of friends – all former radical students now heading toward 30 – come together for a weekend (the film was made four years before The Big Chill). They talk about politics, play basketball, break up and come together, and skinny dip. One woman brings her new boyfriend, who feels uncomfortable amongst these old friends. The movie is rough around the edges, especially in some of the closeups, but considering the novice director and extremely low budget, you must expect that.
B+ The Mauritanian (2021)
Jody Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch provide the star wattage, but Tahar Rahim takes over the film as the real-life Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who spent more than 14 years in Guantanamo Bay, where he was confined and tortured without ever being charged for a crime. Rahim’s performance is electric. He jokes with his tormentors, tries to beat boredom, and traverses the emotional divide from hope to the deepest despair. Foster and Cumberbatch are fine but seem mild and conventional compared to Rahim.
B Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut is a fun and entertaining western with, of course, a race issue. Decent, black settlers, led by Buck (Poitier), are trying to go west. But white bigots make it nearly impossible. Native Americans barter with Buck; it’s a problematic relationship. As the two heroes, Poitier and Harry Bellefonte (as the Preacher) have a fun chemistry, with Poitier as the cool and calm hero, while Bellefonte is funny, outrageous, and not the sort of person you would ever trust. With Ruby Dee as Buck’s wife.
B- The Dig (2021)
Another one of those very well acted British period pieces that pop up all the time; this one is reasonably worth watching, but far from the best of the genre. Ralph Fiennes plays an archaeologist hired by a wealthy widow to excavate what’s buried below her land. They find a nearly intact ship from the 7th century. But once the museum professionals turn up, Fiennes is pushed aside; after all, he’s merely a self-taught member of the lower classes. Several subplots get in the way of the main story about archaeology and the British clash system. This is all happening in 1939, with England about to fall into World War II. Based on a true story.
D Sergeant Rutledge (1960)
John Ford’s attempt to create a western for the Civil Rights era falls flat on its face. It’s more courtroom drama than western. Most of the outdoor scenery (Monument Valley, of course) is displayed only in flashbacks. Woody Strode plays the title character, a sergeant in a Black cavalry regiment, being tried for rape and murder. The comedy is overdone and ridiculous. For a film about racism, it’s strange that three white actors get star billing, while Strode – playing the heroic title character – shares billing with four other actors. Also, the Apaches are depicted as evil savages.